Heather Hansen

Learn to Say “No”

A big part of advocating in the courtroom is learning how to say “No”. In order to keep the focus on your case, you have to make choices. You have to say no to a weaker argument, a less credible piece of evidence, and to asking that additional question. The same is true when you’re advocating for your big ideas. Your jury of clients, customers and team members only have so much time and so much bandwidth. Every time you say “No” to the irrelevant you’re saying “Yes” for the argument, evidence or question you want them to embrace. So when you learn to say “No”, you’re better able to advocate to win.

Many of us have haven’t yet really learned to say “No”. We aren’t great at setting boundaries. It’s not easy. In Chapter 20 of my book, The Elegant Warrior, I talk about Learning to Object. Learning to object is really just learning to say “No”. In the courtroom, I had to be able to object. So I did it for my clients and for my case. But it took time before I could really learn to object without waiting for permission or looking for validation, both inside and outside the courtroom. It took time for me to build confidence in my objections, and in my “No”. But learning to object, and to say “No”, makes me a better advocate in the courtroom and in life.

It will make you a better advocate too. . In my podcast, The Elegant Warrior, I ask my guests what book helps them maintain their elegance. Indrani Goradia chose the wonderful book The Power of a Positive No. It has changed the way I look at saying “No”, and that has changed my ability to say it. (When you change your perspective, you change your life).

In The Power of a Positive No, William Ury helps the reader see the No as a Yes. Whenever you say “No” to someone or something, you are saying “Yes” to something else. And sometimes you have to say “No” to someone else to say “Yes” to yourself.

Ury explains it in a way that stuck with me. He says ‘you can stand on your feet without standing on their toes’. I always say there are two ways to have the biggest building in town–build your own or knock down everyone else’s. When we start seeing saying “No” as building our own building and not knocking down anyone else’s, we may be able to say “No” more often, with more confidence and clarity.

When I started advocating in the courtroom, I had to learn to object in order to keep the case focused and exclude the irrelevant evidence. The jury didn’t have time for every argument and every piece of evidence. If I wanted to include the information that best served my case, I had to say no to the rest. And so do you. Say “yes” to what serves you and then say “no” to the rest. Learning to say “No” is yet another way you can advocate to win.

Heather Hansen

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